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Two Mooneys, Eight Paws, Three Pilots and Love

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

Two Mooneys, Eight Paws, Three Pilots and Love

Three Mooneys Ready to Go

Three Mooneys Ready to Go

A few weeks ago, I was able to fly my first Pilots N Paws [PNP] mission. The day was a testament to what our General Aviation airplanes can accomplish to give back in service as well as install a permanent smile on our faces.

Gary, the Rescue Pup

Gary, the Rescue Pup

The mission was to help Gary, the twelve-pound Shih Tzu get from the temporary shelter in Long Beach to the San Francisco Bay Area. If you were driving that route, it would take eight and a half hours. But luckily for Gary it was #FlyFast Saturday. His total flight time was under two hours.

The first leg was flown by veteran PNP Mooney pilot, John Baker in his 1993 Bravo. John has flown over 100 dogs and cats on their “freedom flights.” His enthusiasm and zeal for the charity flights for dogs and cats is quite contagious.

Mooney 1, John Baker

Mooney 1, John Baker

After John landed we agreed to meet outside Art Craft Paint. We completed some paperwork and unloaded Gary.

My co-pilot for the day is a great friend, fellow pilot and Mooney Girl, Cat. I thought it was very appropriate that Cat was helping us with the dogs.

Cat and Jolie en route

Cat and Jolie en route

 

 

My four-legged Ambassador was Mooney Lucas Aviation Puppy who is in training to become a therapy dog. Mooney and Gary had a great time getting to know each other while John briefed me on the procedure for the receiving party.

We took a bunch of photos, loaded Mooney-dog in the back seat, got Gary in his crate in the back and departed Santa Maria airport for Livermore. Gary did a super job in flight, he only cried a little bit. One hour and twenty minutes later we touched down in Livermore.

Happy pilots and doggy

Happy pilots and doggy

I cannot begin to express what the flight did for ME. I had so much fun seeing John again, albeit for a brief time. Cat and I jib jabbed all the way up and back. She flies a cute little C152. She could not get over the 150kts over the ground on the way up and 160 kts. on the way home. The satisfaction of bringing Gary to his forever home was wonderful.

I want to encourage my fellow Mooniacs  and all pilots to use their aircraft in service to others. We have these beautiful airplanes. Let’s use them to make our world a better place. I am still grinning about Gary, a fun name for a dog. Then again, mine is named Mooney!

 

Instructors to Remember … and Forget

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

After 40 years in both the flying and communicating side of the aviation business, it’s almost impossible for me to remember that I almost allowed my first flight instructor to drive me completely away from the business many years ago. Although he’s long gone – I hope – the lessons still seem significant enough to pass on today at a time when the industry’s hunting and pecking for every possible student pilot. Lucky for me, another CFI entered my life years later and completely turned my world around.

7FC TriChamp

Photo courtesy Chris Houston

In 1966 I was a 17-year old freshman at the University of Illinois’ Institute of Aviation and anxious to learn to fly. I never doubted my goal … to be an airline pilot.

In those days, student pilots and instructors at the school were randomly paired and I drew a guy named Tom. We flew the mighty 90-hp 7FC Tri-Champ with the student in front and the instructor behind.

School began in late September with ground school and the “Box,” a name we’d all attached to the Link trainer we were expected to master before we took to the air. I never realized I was a bit claustrophobic until the first time Tom sat me in the box, closed the door and pulled the cover down on top of me leaving me in nearly total darkness. We didn’t brief much before we began so not surprisingly, the sessions didn’t go well since I never really understood the point of moving a control stick inside a dark little room as dials and gauges spun like mad before my eyes. Looking back on it today, I realize Tom talked a lot, asked few questions and simply assumed I was following. Another was that I hadn’t yet flown the airplane. Finally one day I did.Link_Trainer

I clearly loved every moment in the air despite being nearly clueless about what I was supposed to be doing, except for reminders from the back seat like … “what are you doing that for?” It was at about the five-hour mark that things started to get really ugly because I just didn’t seem to be coming together. I remember landing practice. Right near the pavement on the first few, Tom started yelling … “Flare, flare, flare.” Crunch! The Tri-Champ was pretty forgiving despite hitting hard enough to knock the headset off my head a few times. After an hour of that we taxied in and shut down. Tom grabbed my shoulders and shook me hard from the back seat. “Why didn’t you flare when I told you too?” Somewhat worn out I just stared out the windshield and asked, “What’s a flare?”

I actually managed to solo the next week and was cleared to the pattern alone which helped my confidence enormously. But soon I was back in the Tri-Champ and the Link with Tom and the yelling never ended. To make matters worse, he began slapping me along side the head and yelling when I screwed up. With 15 hours total time, I finally broke. At 17 I knew I would never learn to fly. I quit school AND flying and never touched the controls of another airplane.

Until …

Jump ahead five years as I arrived to my last Air Force duty station. How I got there is too long a story right now. It’s what happened next that’s important.

Within a few days of arrival I located the base flying club. Outside the main door near the aircraft parking area sat a small set of stadium seats near the fence. I’d spend time there watching the Piper Cherokees come and go, some with two people inside, some with just one. I didn’t go into the clubhouse though.

One day, as one of the airplanes pulled up near the fence where I was eating my lunch, the engine didn’t shut down. The guy in the right seat seemed to be engaged in a conversation with the pilot. Finally the door opened, the guy in the right seat hopped out and shut the door patting it a few times after he did. As the airplane pulled away the right seat guy came over to the seats saying hi as he did. Half an hour later the Cherokee returned and the guy next to me left to greet him. Later I learned the pilot was on his second supervised solo and the fellow who’d waved to me was his instructor.

Maybe aRob in a 605 copy week or so later I’m back out on the seats just watching the airplanes when that same instructor comes out of the clubhouse door. He looks around and happens to see me so he walks over to the fence. “Why aren’t you out there flying on such a beautiful day,” he asks. “I’m not a pilot.” “Really?” he says. “You sure hang around here a lot for a guy who doesn’t fly. My name’s Ray. Stop in one of these days,” he said before turning away toward one of the airplanes. The challenge glove had been thrown down.

I didn’t go back to the viewing stand the rest of that week. It was simply too scary to think of being close to something I really loved but had already failed at.

The next week though, I did go back, but only back to the seats. To this day I think Ray was watching for me because he came out of the clubhouse door and waved … “Well, are you coming in?” I sighed deeply but got up and walked over and in the clubhouse door. And that, as they say, was that. Over some coffee, I told Ray my story of failure. Didn’t even slow him down because an hour later we went out flying … and I never stopped again. I went on to earn my ATP and my own flight instructor ratings, fly for a couple of airlines, a charter company and a couple of Part 91 corporate flight departments. As an aviation writer, I even managed to grab a couple of hours in an Airbus A-380. It has all been just so sweet.

My instructor Tom nearly ended my aviation career, but luckily there was another fabulous instructor like Ray out there waiting to offer me a hand up with a little encouragement, which is all I apparently needed.

Today I wonder how many instructors like Tom are still out there. Trust me, one like him is one too many.

So do us all in the industry a favor and offer a ride to that kid sitting outside the fence if you have the chance. You might just change their life.

Wings and Wheels: Encouraging visitors to be guests in our communities

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

We fly for pleasure, business, recreation and charitable purposes. Wouldn’t it be nice if after the wings are done flying we had some wheels to get us to a nice restaurant for lunch, or to our hotel or nearby scenic attraction? My hope is that after reading my little blog a couple dozen of you might add to the list of airports that have bicycles available for pilots flying in.

Oceano Airport Fly 'n Ride

Oceano Airport Fly ‘n Ride

At L52 Oceano Airport in California we are, to the best of my knowledge one of the closest public airports to the Pacific Ocean. Long ago bikes were available for guests. They were painted orange and said “Oceano Airport.” They were leaned up against the fence and folks would take them and ride to Pismo Beach for some clam chowder or a walk on the pier. I was told that if any of the bikes were found in town abandoned, someone would throw them in a truck and bring them back to the airport. Fast-forward to 2010. Friends of Oceano Airport in conjunction with an airport-based business Empirical Systems Aerospace brought back the Fly ‘n Ride, only this time contained in a Rubbermaid shed that is locked to keep children from accessing without parent supervision. The bikes have combination locks, and there are helmets and a tire pump in the shed.

Fun Wheels for the Beach

Fun Wheels for the Beach

Our Fly ‘n Ride works on a donation basis. Folks are pretty generous, dropping a few bucks in the bucket, which allows us to buy tubes and tires as needed. We have a liability waiver that we ask folks to sign. I distinctly remember the conversation with the risk management lawyer of San Luis Obispo County. Initially she wanted us to insure the bikes, in case someone was injured or even died. I asked her, “If your friend loaned you a bike and you fell off and broke your ankle, would you sue your friend?”  “Yes” she said and I replied, “Then you do not understand the culture of General Aviation and G.A. Airports. When we fly to some airports and you need a ride into town someone will throw you keys to the courtesy car, with no questions asked.” We compromised with the waiver. It basically says if you fall down, you are in charge of getting your own Bactine.

Our local University and Sheriffs department collect hundreds of bicycles every year that are abandoned, recovered or impounded. Initially we applied for several of those bikes, which were free. For our purposes however a multi-gear bike with hand brakes was way too much maintenance for a beach-side airport. Now we have three or four beach cruisers for our airport guests. Yes, I call them guests. I think we should all treat folks who fly into our airports as guests. Make them feel welcome, speak to them, offer a ride to town. Better yet, why not set up a Fly ’n Ride at your home airport. It really doesn’t cost much, and it will increase not only traffic to your local businesses but will increase your airport’s goodwill factor. Below is a table of the airports that I know about around the country that have bikes available. If your airport has them and is not on the list, please take a moment to put the details including identifier, name/state and any notes in the comments section.

Airports with Bikes

Airports with Bikes

I grew up in the right or back seat of a Bellanca then a Mooney. While the bikes wouldn’t have worked for a family of four necessarily it would have been something fun to do while waiting for my Dad to do the pre-flight or fuel up. We can all do something at our airports to make it more welcoming to our guests. If you come into L52 Oceano California, make sure to grab a bike head left out of the airport and make your first left on Pier, a few blocks down is one of the prettiest beaches in the world, our little slice of paradise.

Fly HighThis blog is dedicated to the memory of my father, James Lucas who flew West this week. Godspeed and tailwinds, Dad.

 

Flight’s Universal Appeal

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Richard L. Collins, possibly the most prolific and insightful of all General Aviation journalists, observed that our community spent inordinate attention on business uses of private aircraft when in fact flying was good fun and personally rewarding. While I would not be so bold as to speak for him, I suspect he would advocate that operating a GA aircraft for any purpose was an endeavor worth pursuing—provided we did so safely and with a modicum of proficiency.

Each person who flies has his or her own reasons for being an aviator. Freedom, control, participating in a unique activity that most people have not experienced, achieving the level of proficiency needed to be designated a “pilot”, seeing the world from a new perspective—all such attributes are worthy goals. Add to those motivations the ability to travel swiftly to interesting places, perhaps for business reasons or possibly just for fun, and I wonder why more people do not embrace General Aviation.

I contend that gaining what General Aviation can offer, and doing so with sufficient and justifiable confidence that a planned trip can be flown as scheduled, requires a significant level of knowledge and skill. Considerable time and attention is needed to achieve that competence, and far too many people decide that the gain of becoming a pilot is not worth the pain of becoming a pilot. Unfortunately, about 50 percent of individuals who demonstrate sufficient motivation to obtain a student certificate and invest in initial instruction, even to the level of flying solo, drop out before they become a Private Pilot. About half of newly certified Private Pilots do not fly more than about 100 hours total before they let their physical lapse, thereby becoming inactive. While cost is certainly a factor in the decision not to pursue flying, I contend it is not the prime cause of the dropout phenomena. There are other popular activities, hobbies and passions far more expensive than private flying.

Based upon the broad spectrum of responses to my November offering for AOPA’s Opinion Leaders blog (Let’s Use Drone Technology to Expand Business Aviation), the word drone excites many emotions. Drone technology—use of GPS to fly a precise course, and data link capabilities to monitor the vehicle’s operational health during all phases of flight—is sufficiently well known and reliable to be applied to General Aviation aircraft in such a manner that operating a GA aircraft could be significantly simpler and predictable. No, the advanced GA aircraft would not be a drone—it would require a certified pilot with a specified level of recent experience to be legal.

The aircraft’s design, however, would incorporate sufficient technology to reduce pilot workload, avoid other aircraft and always operate within the allowable flight envelope.

I contend that if GA aircraft were more “operator friendly”, more people would chose to operate GA aircraft—for pleasure, for business or preferably for both business and pleasure.

What is Business Aviation?

Friday, October 17th, 2014

 

 

Many opinion leaders prominently featured in media and other communication channels, including social networks, know very little about Business Aviation. In fact, the entire segment of we call General Aviation is a mystery to most of the public.

 

We define General Aviation by what it is not: It’s not the airlines, it’s not military aviation. Those broad classes of aviation are familiar to the public and easily identified.  GA is everything else.  Something is missing when we fail to identify General Aviation by its unique characteristics and benefits.

 

Residing under the wide umbrella of General Aviation is the segment we call Business Aviation. Little wonder that the use of general aviation aircraft for business transportation—i.e., Business Aviation—is not well understood. Consequently our community too often is the target for pejorative rhetoric by politicians as well as some who wish to stir discontent and envy between different economic strata.

 

Business Aviation is simply a highly useful and productive form of air transportation. It is not a substitute for the airlines. The use of business aircraft is complementary rather than competitive to scheduled air carriers, providing access to 10 times the number of airports that have any form of airline service and 100 times the locations with business-friendly schedules. Business Aviation provides access by air to locations the airlines do not serve and do not want to serve. Travel between many places in rural America and throughout the world is not economically viable for the scheduled air carriers.

 

Furthermore, Business Aviation itself is broad, encompassing aircraft of all types and sizes used in various applications ranging from owner-flown business trips to charter, fractional ownership and corporate flight operations.

 

Corporations and entrepreneurs need to travel. Even in this age of Internet and smartphones, nothing replaces the benefits of being face-to-face with clients and business partners. Thus when companies must position their people to various locations, they select the scheduled airlines when that form of transport provides the most cost-effective means of movement and Business Aviation when using a business aircraft provides a more productive use of travel time. Studies by leading research firms such as Harris Interactive show that business aircraft are highly effective in adding productivity to a business person’s travel time. Nearly 75 percent of passengers on company-owned aircraft are middle managers or technical specialists, not Mahogany Row types.

 

Thus it is understandable that member companies of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), the world’s most active users of business jets, spend billions of dollars annually on airline tickets. When Robert Crandall, at the time President and Chairman of America Airlines, was the keynote speaker at the NBAA’s 50th anniversary meeting, he said it was his pleasure to address his “best customers”.

 

On a recent trip to Washington, DC, I spent a few minutes at the National Air and Space Museum’s mall location. More than a decade ago, the NBAA sponsored an exhibit called “Business Wings” to provide a platform for expanding the public’s understanding of why companies use business aircraft. The program occupied a sizable portion of the westernmost wing of the first floor hall and was seem by over 2,000,000 visitors during its two year or so run at the museum. Some aspects of the display remained for several more years.

 

I was disappointed to find no reference to Business Aviation during my brief jaunt through the NASM’s location in the heart of our nation’s capital. I understand that there is reference to business aircraft at the Museum’s Hazy Center at Dulles, however. Educating the public and their opinion leaders is a practical necessity for obtaining legislation that assures access to airspace and airports for business aircraft as well as reasonable fees and taxes associated with Business Aviation. It is in our collective best interests as aviators with the knowledge and appreciation of all aspect of General Aviation to seize each opportunity to communicate the good news of our community.

Reflections on Being an Aviator

Friday, September 19th, 2014

Serious aviators share a common characteristic—their passion for flight. Whether he or she is a professional earning a living in Business Aviation or a private pilot enjoying the magnificent foliage of a fall weekend, aviators go aloft to experience something very special and fulfilling. Aviation is a meaningful motivator for their way of life. It is an expression of how they feel about themselves and about their confidence to perform. I know no one who became a professional pilot because their parents forced them into that career. Similarly, when asked why they earned a pilot’s certificate, most individuals say they always wanted to fly. Such is the magnetism of aviation.

Thomas Watson, Jr., CEO of International Business Machines from 1956 until retiring in 1971 on his doctor’s advice following a heart attack, reflected the role that aviation can play in a person’s life. From his first solo (which he proudly noted in his autobiography Father, Son & Co. that he accomplished after only 5.5 hours of instruction) until his death in 1993, he maintained a passionate attraction to flight.

In 1977 I met Mr. Watson at Norwood Memorial Airport, a few miles southwest of Boston, Massachusetts, where he had just completed his first solo flight in a Bell Jet Ranger. After being introduced and photographing him flying the helicopter, I boarded his North American Sabreliner and watched him pilot (as captain) the business jet to Knox County Regional Airport, about 85 miles north of Portland, Maine, where he was the principal benefactor of the Owls Head Transportation Museum. There he parked his business jet, donned goggles and cloth flying helmet and took off in a restored Newport WWI fighter. After a few low passes, he landed and proceeded to get into a beautifully rebuilt Spad, also a survivor of the Great War, and piloted the aircraft through its paces. After lunching on Maine lobster, he mounted a Spitfire for a dust-up of the field. That sortie complete, Mr. Watson excused himself, boarded his Sabreliner and flew back to his home north of New York City.

Piloting sophisticated aircraft was nothing new to Thomas Watson, Jr. Since his days as a student at Brown University, to being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 102nd Observation Squadron of the New York National Guard (an assignment he sought when he learned that a civilian pilot with more than 300 hours of flight time could be designated a pilot without going through Army Air Corp training), to his 2,500 hours flying a Consolidated B-24 throughout WWII as personal pilot for General Follett Bradley, to being checked out the IBM’s business jets, Watson was the consummate aviator.

During lunch at the Owls Head Museum, I asked Mr. Watson why he devoted his time and resources to the preservation of old aircraft. His response was simple: He owned his carrier at IBM to aviation.

Claiming to be a mediocre student and lacking experience in business, he said the only endeavor where he felt successful was flying. In fact, as WWII was concluding, Watson lined up a piloting job with United Airlines. Discussing his post-war plans to join the airlines with General Bradley, his war-time boss’s response was “Really? I always thought you’d go back and run the IBM company.”

Mr. Watson said he had no sinecure at IBM. His father owned too few shares at the company to dictate who would succeed him. Thus he responded with a question. “General Bradley, do you really think I could run IBM?”

“Of course”, was the General’s response.

Mr. Watson said General Bradley’s answer, so positive, provoked his introspection. He had accomplished many challenging tasks while serving as the General’s pilot. Yes, he thought, I can take on unknowns and be successful. Without the confidence that being an aviator installed within him, he said he would not have gone to IBM. He felt he owed his career to aviation.

As a footnote to this blog, Mr. Watson told me not to relate our conversation in the publication that had asked me to meet him on that date in 1977. Subsequently the reason for his command was clear: Thomas Watson, Jr. recounted his discussion with Follett Bradley in Father, Son & Co., published first in 1990.

Mandate-ON!

Friday, September 19th, 2014
Complaint to Mandate

Complaint to Mandate

I was listening to NPR on the commute home from work a few weeks ago. The commentator was talking about complaints. She had a rather novel idea. Listen to yourself and hear what you complain about most. Take that item and commit yourself to becoming part of the solution.

What if we, as aviation lovers and airport protectors, took a self-inventory and came up with our biggest gripe? You know, the thing that we are most sarcastic about. The phrase we mutter under our breath at the airport board meeting, or the gas pump, or while watching the nightly news coverage of an aircraft accident.

I envisioned a complaint box that took in the complaint and shot a MANDATE out of the bottom. Sort of like the cost of the complaint is the requirement that you expend energy becoming part of the fix.

I tell you, I have the best friends and acquaintances in aviation. A quick query of a dozen or so Facebook friends yielded me an honest list of their biggest complaints. They ranged from the high cost of becoming a pilot, to lack of community awareness of the value of an airport, to 3rd class medicals and the price of fuel. But you know what was top on the hit parade? Dum dum dum dum….TSA. So I am going to follow my own advice and tell you a bit about some folks who went from complaint to mandate to success with TSA Directive 1542-04-08G.

I am a pretty lucky girl.  My husband, Mitch Latting is not only a Mooney pilot and GA advocate, but has become passionate about fighting the over-reach of the TSA directive.  I was able to interview him over dinner last week.  “Over 400 airports across the country that provide commercial air service have been negatively affected by TSA Security Directive 1542-04-08G” he says.   We both noticed implementation of SD-08G at our Santa Maria [KSMX] and San Luis Obispo [KSBP] CA airports was overly exaggerated by the airport managers, making the entire airport the Airport Operations Area [AOA], thereby imprisoning General Aviation, including businesses, museums, restaurants and hangar tenants.

Mitch reports “TSA’s own written material recognizes that treating General Aviation areas as if they are Security Identification Display Areas [SIDA] causes a hardship to General Aviation.  TSA actually recommends physical separation of the two areas.”

TSA Card needed to get to GA Hangars

TSA Card needed to get to GA Hangars

With this over zealous grab at both Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo airports, pedestrian gate access codes have all been removed.  Once you leave the airport, you cannot return to your airplane unless you have an airport specific TSA [FBI background check, annual fee] approved access badge, or you have the cocktail waitress at the local restaurant let you back into the airport.  If you return late at night to get to your airplane and your cocktail waitress has gone home, or your local FBO is closed, you are quite out of luck.  Well, if you’re willing to pay an exorbitant fee, you can call the FBO to come out and let you in, or you can call the airport administration office and hope someone will respond.

At our airport, you cannot drive your car to your private aircraft hangar unless you flash your TSA airport specific badge at the kiosk located at each vehicle gate, which is monitored by overhead video cameras.  Once through the gate, you are required to stop, blocking all other vehicles or persons from entering or leaving until the gate is fully closed, lest you are subjected to a $25,000.00 fine.  If you want to drive out of the airport later after your flight, you won’t be able to unless you flash your TSA badge at the inner kiosk.

SIDA Gate around GA Hangars

SIDA Gate around GA Hangars

Now, here’s someone who took the mandate!  On behalf of their General Aviation airport, Colorado Grand Junction [KGJT] pilots Steve Wood and Dave Shepard formed Grand Junction Airport Users and Tenants Association (GJAUTA].  This group went into battle a few years ago, with the intent of returning reasonable freedoms to General Aviation.  It’s been a long hard fight, but they won!  A main effort of GJAUTA was to separate the SIDA from the AOA area, while keeping general aviation [including hangars, museums, and businesses] outside the AOA.  Gone are the highly restrictive and unnecessary TSA restrictions upon Grand Junction Airports General Aviation.

With their tremendous efforts, freedom fighters Steve and Dave were awarded AOPA’s annual Laurence P. Sharples Perpetual Award.  The award is presented to those who have made the most significant contributions to the advancement of General Aviation.

Think about what you complain about in regard to aviation or airports. Be honest. Then change that complaint into a mandate. Mandate is an action word. If you don’t have enough activities at your airport, plan one. Not enough speakers in your community to promote aviation? Be one. For me? I am going to be part of the solution at KSMX and KSBP and to push back those barbed wire fences and cameras where they belong. Mandate-ON!

Commercial Certificate Not Required–Concluding Thoughts

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

 

Commercial Certificate Not Required—Part 1 and Part 2 generated a number of meaningful responses from aviators who believe that employees should be allowed to fly their personal aircraft, or a rental, on company business and be reimbursed as is routinely done with employees using their personal car.  For example, we know of no company that prohibits its employees from using a rental car on company business. Why should employees be prevented or effectively discouraged from using a rented aircraft? In terms of material loss, insurance is available that adequately protects shareholders from claims that might arise should there be a mishap. As mentioned by one responder to the referenced blogs, aviation accidents often prompt claimants to call for excessive judgments. So do bad auto accidents. A company can be well protected by liability coverage coupled with good legal defense whether the case involves aircraft or automobiles.

One respondent took me to task for not addressing employee-flown travel more aggressively during the 11 plus years that I was president of the National Business Aviation Associations between 1992 and 2003. He has a point, although in NBAA’s No Plane No Gain advocacy program launched in the early 1990s we occasionally featured an entrepreneur using his own aircraft in the furtherance of business activities. The Association (which was conceived to represent corporations that use GA aircraft flown by salaried crews for business transportation) did encourage me to use my B-55 Baron for business, provided I carried adequate liability insurance, named the NBAA as an additional insured and took yearly recurrent training. While we promoted the advantage of General Aviation aircraft for business travel, perhaps I could have been more assertive on behalf of employee pilots.

Several readers noted that companies carry umbrella policies. What many respondents failed to emphasize, however, was the availability of policies with very high liability limits. Protection in the hundreds of millions of dollars is not excessively expensive. Fear of being sued out of existence is unrealistic and not a reason to prohibit the use of personal aircraft for company business.

The comments that resonated most with me were written by readers who lamented how little business managers and the public (including most of the people who serve on juries) know about the benefits of Business Aviation—the use of General Aviation aircraft for business transportation. When we dig down deeply into the challenges faced by General Aviation in all its forms and manifestations, we find that unfamiliarity generates a lack of acceptance, which in turn leads to companies refusing to look at personal aircraft in the same way they consider personal automobiles.

Our Associations such as AOPA do yeomen’s work promoting the benefits of flight, improving the skills of aviators and representing us before government. But the organizations that speak on our behalf in DC and elsewhere need the help of everyone who understands and appreciates the benefits of being a pilot. Each of us must use his or her knowledge of General Aviation to spread the good news of our community. Perhaps we should encourage the formation of a special committee or task force to break down the barriers preventing the use of personal aircraft for employee travel.

Regulations Are Written In Blood: Why Planesharing Is Grounded For Now

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

 

planesharing is grounded until further notice

In aviation, we say that “regulations are written in blood.” Pilots often complain about regulations, but they generally recognize that those regulations are often based on experience and events that have cost others their property, their lives, or both. We know that the legal environment of aviation often lags behind reality. Technical innovations can make older regulations obsolete. But sometimes the innovation doesn’t change the relevance of the regulations or dilute the blood in which they are written.

Planesharing Explained

Laws should serve as a safety net, not a noose. Aircraft are expensive to own and operate. Now, more than ever, making aircraft more useful and ubiquitous is critical for the survival of aviation. Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, VBRO, GetAround, and BoatBound make it easy to put substantial assets like cars, boats, and homes to work. There is no federal statute that makes renting out your spare bedroom generally illegal.

“Planesharing” tries to apply the same model to private air travel. Planesharing is the concept of pilots use services on the Internet to post details of their upcoming flights in the hopes that potential passengers will find the flight information, join the pilots on their flights, and split the cost of the flight with them.

Startups like Flytenow, AirPooler, ShareMySky, AiirShare, Pro Rata Share, Wingman, and others have developed business models around facilitating planesharing. Venture capital should not be seen as some kind of signal that startups can ignore the rules the rest of us have to live by.

Pilots have been legally sharing the costs of privately operated flights for decades, but purpose-built online apps like these have made this kind of sharing more like commercial flying.

How Private and Commercial Flying are Different

It is sometimes said that the most dangerous part of a flight is the drive to the airport. That’s true, but only if you’re flying with a commercial operation. Airline (Part 121) and charter (Part 135) flying is something like 500 times safer than operations conducted by private pilots (generally conducted under Part 91). There’s good reason for this. Airlines and charter operators have to achieve rigorous certification of their aircraft, facilities, operations, and pilots and maintain that certification through constant monitoring, training, and investment. If you look at the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) in printed form, the requirements take up about an inch of thickness and that’s just the regulations themselves. Aircraft inspections happen at least every 100 hours of operating time. Operating specifications, maintenance records, pilot manuals, maintenance manuals, dispatcher manuals, and other necessary paperwork fills many linear feet of shelf space. Pilot experience could be as low as 250 or so hours, but most pilots flying for commercial operations have thousands.

Private operations, (under Part 91) on the other hand, don’t have to do as much. They’re subject to maybe a half inch of regulations and a few operating manuals. Private pilots might have as little as 50 hours of flight time. A mechanic may only be required to even touch the aircraft once a year.

It’s reasonable to accept more risk when flying with a private individual vs. a commercial operator. Flying a helicopter in combat has a lower accident rate than flying single piston engine airplanes. Remember folks, flying isn’t necessarily dangerous, but it is terribly unforgiving.

The Regulations and How Planesharing Gets Pilots In Trouble

This difference is the basis for the different FAA regulations for commercial and private operations. The regulation that applies to private pilots (FAR 61.133) says that “no person who holds a private pilot certificate may act as pilot in command of an aircraft that is carrying passengers or property for compensation or hire; nor may that person, for compensation or hire, act as pilot in command of an aircraft.” That same regulation goes on to say that “a private pilot may not pay less than the pro rata share of the operating expenses of a flight with passengers, provided the expenses involve only fuel, oil, airport expenditures, or rental fees.”

Planesharing depends on the “pro rata share” part of the regulation. As long as a private pilot operating under Part 91 collects only part of the money for the flight, he or she is in the clear, right? But let’s be honest. Privately this easy, and only when you start fishing about for people we have no prior relationship with do any of these new apps make anything easier. Blurring the lines between private and commercial flying is a problem. The confusion is in the uninitiated passenger believing that he or she is getting the commercial level of safety when the pilot is operating under the much more permissive rules of Part 91.

So the FAA typically applies a two-part litmus test.

1. Is the pilot “holding out” the service to the public? Put another way: How much does an operation look like an airline or charter service? FAA Advisory Circular AC-120-42 says that one becomes “a common carrier [i.e., an operation that requires the more rigorous certification] when it holds itself out or to a segment of the public as willing to furnish transportation within the limits of its facilities to any person who wants it.” What does a planesharing pilot do? Lists his or her flight and invites anyone with money to come sit in one of the other seats, right? Short of the person being overweight for the aircraft or being disagreeable in some way, a planesharing pilot is offering to furnish transportation to all comers.

2. Do the pilot and the passenger(s) have “common purpose” for the flight? The regulations (and all FAA guidance and rulings to date) clearly contemplate friends or family loading into a Cessna 172 and flying somewhere for dinner or sightseeing. The FAA requires that everyone in the aircraft have something in common about the mission. Planesharing encourages passengers who have no preexisting relationship with the pilot (otherwise, why is an online service necessary for them to find each other?) and it is almost certain that the pilot and passengers will have different objectives once they arrive at the destination. What are the chances that perfect strangers will turn out to be heading to the same golf course, restaurant, or shopping district? Even local flights which start and end at the same airport, which the FAA regulates as sightseeing flights are regulated. Air tour pilots are required to keep within a limited distance from the airport, submit to more drug tests, and hold at least a commercial pilot certificate.

It is possible to engage in planesharing in a compliant way. You build a group of friends over time, say on Pilots of America or a similar message board. You all agree to meet at a regional airport and fly in Bob’s Cessna 206 down to Sun ‘N Fun in Florida in March for three days to see the airshow and drool on the latest aircraft. You split the cost when it’s all over. Great.

But, if we’re being honest with ourselves, does anyone really think that many planesharing flights would work this way? A majority of them? Fewer? Any? The FAA administrator and staff are reasonably intelligent. The FAA can identify a sham when the FAA sees a sham and so can we. We need to be honest with ourselves and admit that most flights under the planesharing model are not legal under the current regulations. The arguments made by these companies that the rules don’t apply to them just don’t hold water.

Could the FAA come up with a safe harbor under the rule? Sure. What would that look like? A demonstrable pre-existing relationship between the pilot and passengers of at least such-and-such a duration, supported by family relationship or documentary evidence like date-stamped e-mail correspondence? A requirement that pilot and passengers all do the same thing at the destination, supported by a file folder full of consecutively-numbered concert tickets or a guest check with the appropriate number of entrees?

At what point do the administrative costs outweigh the benefit of such a safe harbor? It’s complicated. Previous legal interpretations from the FAA like here and here make this clear as mud. Creating a safe harbor under current regulation would be really tough. We’ve got to balance personal choice with public expectations of safety.

Anyway, we’re going to find out soon.  At least AirPooler and FlyteNow have petitioned the FAA for an administrative ruling about the legality of planesharing. The FAA told the pilot community that it would rule by mid-June, but that deadline has come and gone while the FAA continues to think about the issue. In the meantime, good on AirPooler for recently advising pilots to hold off on listing flights pending the FAA’s ruling. My opinion doesn’t really count for much. The ball is in the FAA’s court. Enforcement actions are possible and even likely before the smoke clears.

Why So Serious?

If you’ve read this far, you might wonder why I’m disparaging a potentially helpful and cool new aspect of the sharing economy. I love innovation and new ideas as much as anyone. I have a dog in this fight. But it’s a different dog and I’ve defined the fight for what I believe is a better way.

For aviation, collaborative consumption isn’t anything new. We’ve been buying and leasing back airplanes to flight schools and flying clubs for decades. The rest of the world was just catching up with us. There’s still plenty of room for innovation in the business of aviation. Two of my favorite examples are ForeFlight and SurfAir. They’ve disrupted the experience, without ignoring the rules.

Regulation and innovation can coexist. My own example is OpenAirplane which tackles the problem that we can solve legally by making more aircraft accessible to more pilots. The idea is to make everyone’s pilot certificate more useful.

In a nutshell: It used to be that each airplane rental operation (and its insurance company) required that a pilot do a local checkout flight in the airplane before renting it. OpenAirplane standardized the checkout process and with support of insurance industry. Now, pilots go through a single annual checkout flight that tests their skills and verifies that they are as safe and competent as the FAA requires. The standards are pretty much the same ones that the FAA uses when initially certifying pilots and they’re evaluated by designated flight instructors who are familiar with the process. After that Universal Pilot Checkout, the pilot can rent the same kind(s) or airplane(s) at any participating facility (currently more than 60 across the US). It’s all completely legal.

While planesharing could expand the addressable market for our company, we’re not willing to put pilots at risk of violations or worse. OpenAirplane solves as much of the problem as we can solve without breaking the law. We put more pilots in more airplanes more often. We don’t do anything for non-pilot passengers yet, but only because – well – illegal.

But we still frequently get lumped in with planesharing operators when folks talk about developments in aircraft availability. We’re not a planesharing operation. And we don’t want to be unless he rules change. Planesharing can’t solve the problem that it claims to solve without a deregulation of private aviation or a big shift in FAA doctrine.

You Can’t Fool Newton and Bernoulli

The principles defined by Isaac Newton and Daniel Bernoulli govern the safety of flight. They don’t care about social networks or online collaboration, no matter how innovative or cute. And mountains of evidence tell us that Newton and Bernoulli favor the better-maintained aircraft, better-trained pilots, and more comprehensive operating procedures that one finds almost exclusively in commercial operations. As long as the safety of passengers – or at least honesty with passengers about the wildly different risk profile that they face in an aircraft with the average a planesharing pilot – is the point, planesharing doesn’t work.

The FAA regulations allocate privileges to pilots based on a careful balancing of those privileges with the skills and experience that they have demonstrated. Planesharing, as currently conceived and practiced, encourages private pilots to operate de facto charter services or air carriers. It’s a bad idea. Unless the FAA reverses its position, planesharing remains grounded.

Coming Together, we can do big things and small things

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

As I type my husband and I are en route to Oshkosh for AirVenture 2014.

On the first day, after having flown 5.5 hours, we landed in Dumas, Texas  at Moore County Airport[KDUX]. What a sweet airport. A nice young man driving a golf cart who called me Ma’am greeted us. Quickly after that Brandon Cox, the airport manager, arrived to help us pump gas. He asked if we would like to go into town. When I said that we would, he said, “We can take care of you.” Brandon gave us the keys to a nice sedan with no form to fill out, and no questions asked. This is one of the small things I love about G.A.

Shortly before we left California’s Central Coast a group of 20 or so volunteers helped to help get New Cuyama Airport [L88] re-opened after having fallen into disrepair. The workers painted, raked, removed weeds, and filled cracks in the asphalt. Although there is still some work to do, it is amazing what big things a group of spirited volunteers can do when working together.

On the second big travel day we stopped in Poplar Grove, Illinois [C77]. This is place is an aviator’s paradise. Tina Thomas of Poplar Grove Airmotive warmly greeted us.

Golf cart ride around C77

Golf cart ride around C77

Shortly after that future aviatrix, Makayla gave us a complete tour of the airport, Vintage Wings & Wheels Museum and environs. In addition to being an accomplished tour-guide and golf cart driver, 8-year-old Makayla really was an ambassador for her home airport. She told us who lived where, what they flew or drove, or what kind of dog they had. She says that she wants to be a pilot, and I believe she will do it.

Mikayla doing the Jeppesen

Mikayla doing the “Jeppesen”

Inside the museum Judi Zangs the general manager met us. She explained that the idea of wings and wheels was a walk back in time to the airfields and roadways of history and to share America’s love for the automobile and airplane.

When we arrived back at the FBO Tina had found a place for us to hangar the Mooney for the overnight and offered to take us into town and pick us up in the morning. The sort of warm hospitality shown us at Poplar Grove is another example of how we can all do large and small things to inspire flight and protect airports.

Now we look forward to a short 45-minute Mooney flight into OSH14. Attending Oshkosh is a treat for every aviation lover. But it is also a wonderful networking opportunity for those of us working in GA advocacy and airport protection. There are always so many things to do at AirVenture.

I am particularly intrigued by Dan Pimentel’s Airplanista blog and #Oshbash event that I will be attending.   In speaking with Dan, he says that, “The annual #Oshbash event primarily a meet up for #avgeeks that live on Twitter. It’s a chance for tweeps on there to put faces with names.” The program for #Oshbash 2014 is the GA Power Collective, a panel discussion featuring seven influential representatives from the major aviation associations and organizations. He says, “I had written an article on my blog in December, 2013 stating that my “Christmas wish for aviation” was to grow the pilot population to 1,000,000 certificated pilots…from the current number of approximately 552,000. My article said that the major associations need to stop working in silos and begin working together…as a collective…to develop one winning strategy to stimulate growth in the pilot community. It is clear that what we have now is not working. This must change if general aviation wants to have a future.” The discussion will be moderated by Pimentel. Panelists include: Frank Ayers Jr. Chancellor, Prescott Campus Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Dick Knapinski, Senior Communications Advisor, EAA, Dr. Peggy Chabrian, President, Women in Aviation International, Brittney Miculka, Director of Outreach, AOPA, Dan Johnson President, Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, Martha Phillips President, The Ninety Nines and Kathryn Fraser Director of Safety & Outreach, General Aviation Manufacturers Association. Personally I am anxious hear this lively discussion.

We simply cannot wait for a state or national aviation group to rescue our airport, be an ambassador for aviation, or provide a friendly face to our community. We have to do that for ourselves. We all must work together toward building the pilot population, preserving the pilots we do have, and protecting our airports.

I cannot wait to see all my “G.A. family” at Oshkosh. However it is a working vacation for me. At the end of the six days I will be tired, but it will be a happy tired.